Wednesday, 19 July 2017

It ain't who you sell, it's the way that you sell 'em

Picture the scene. You score lots of goals, but concede even more. You end up finishing just outside the Championship relegation zone on 51 points. You've been through managerial turmoil - including caretaker management - but are now set to start a season with the man who ended the last campaign in charge. Promisingly, the manager is someone who has done well in the second tier before. Now, however, your free scoring star striker has just been sold to a side that has come down from the Premier League and is flexing its financial muscles thanks to its parachute payments.

Forest? No, that was Fulham this time last season. Clearly, it'd be foolish to think that Mark Warburton's men can follow in their footsteps and mount a play-off campaign just because the position of the clubs has parallels. However, Slavisa Jokanovic's Cottagers have shown that astute management, momentum and a combination of smart buys and up and coming prospects can come together and exceed expectations. Their success also goes some way to showing that the sale of Britt Assombalonga need not be a complete catastrophe.




Britt's £15 million transfer to Middlesbrough is hardly cause for celebration. The former Peterborough man's goal record speaks for itself; he's a natural at finding the back of the net. To lose him to a fellow Championship side is disappointing and - as Paul Severn's Seat Pitch article outlines - demonstrates the disparity between clubs that is furthered by Financial Fair Play and the rules surrounding parachute payments. We might be in the same division as Middlesbrough but we're barely in the same league financially. This is also Fawaz's legacy, however. While the rules are poor, a large part of the blame lies with our own for failing to build a club worthy of earning such a windfall. Boro are reaping the rewards of being well run.

But there were two questions to be answered about Assombalonga if he stayed at the City Ground - was he fit and did he fit. The first is perhaps a little unfair. I'm sure he's had a good pre-season and is in decent shape for the coming campaign. However, it's only right to say that there's a nagging doubt over his ability to perform at his peak on a regular and sustained basis post-injury. We might well have had to have a 'plan B' in mind for any games he'd have to miss anyway.

Did he also fit into Warburton's ideal line-up? I'm sure the manager is smart enough not to turn down the use of a proven goal scorer but I'm less sure that Britt would be his ideal main man. You get the impression he'd much rather have a more mobile centre forward, someone who offers more outside the box too. If the sizeable transfer fee can be used to further shape the squad into Warburton's style, then we might see progress. We might even have enough money to enhance other parts of the squad too.

Not only that, but there's also the question of Ben Brereton. I still live in fear that we'll lose him too, especially after his summer exploits in an England shirt, but there's no denying that he's shown an incredible talent in his breakthrough year. At times last season he was already outperforming Britt and you felt that he was eventually shoved further wide to accommodate his more experienced team mate during the relegation run-in (albeit sensible in the circumstances). If he continues to progress at the rate he showed last season, he'll be a better player than Britt by the end of the season and no-one should be put in his way to hold that progress back. Maybe this solves a selection headache?

Yes he's young and we should temper expectations, but if you're good enough you're old enough and boy did he look good enough at times last season. After being robbed of the chance to see Oliver Burke for long, I'd love to have a season of Brereton in a Forest shirt. You'd hope that he'd rather get games under his belt that rot in a vast Premier League squad too.

With the bitter experience Burke, and before him Michail Antonio, it'd be easy to become downhearted at a third summer transfer window in a row in which a star player is sold off. Yet this departure feels different. The club has negotiated the best price it could - given the release clause in his contract - and sold on a player who wanted to go. From what we're led to believe, Mark Warburton knew of this decision and has worked with the new structure at the club to draw up a list of replacements. In comparison to those last two big summer sales - in which we were subjected to Antonio being withdrawn from selection and finally sold on deadline day and Burke flogged behind the manager's back with no plan for a replacement - it's a case of so far so good.

Now, however, comes the first big test of the new managerial structure. Clubs will know we've got a bit of cash to play with and our rivals will be shopping in the same market. We'll soon see how much of that money is re-invested, how good Frank McParland's contacts book is and what sort of player we're able to attract. It isn't about who you sell - it's about what you do to replace them that matters most.

Britt might have his critics - and his faults - but I enjoyed watching him in a Forest shirt. His goals against Derby, his cheeky charm and ruthless streak, his fairytale finish against MK Dons and his swansong against Ipswich will all leave fond memories. You can hardly blame him for going to a club which should challenge for the title and which will certainly increase his pay packet.

We now need to build a club that doesn't have to sell star players, especially to sides in the same division. If we're sitting here next year without a fourth successive big name departure, we'll know that progress is being made. We also need to do something that this club hasn't always been great at doing - and replace a key player in a way that doesn't affect the team. The new regime offers promise that we can achieve this but it won't be easy. Those in charge at the club can at least take inspiration from Fulham's last year.


Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Forest Five Asides: Cummings and goings, the magic number, fixtures, Worrall

Here we are, slap bang in the middle of the off season - a time when a picture of some grass or a lick of paint on the stand is lapped up as the nearest we're going to get when it comes to news. Yet things aren't totally silent on the banks of the Trent. Here's my latest 'five asides'...


Cummings....

For starters, we've already made our first signing of the summer. The capture of Jason Cummings from Hibs is refreshing for many reasons.

Firstly, it's done and dusted nice and early and doesn't come after a tawdry game of cat and mouse and a couple of 'derisory' bids to test the water (or alert our rivals to the target's availability). It's also a fairly low fee - given the going rate for strikers at our level these days - for a player clearly known to Mark Warburton and Frank McParland from their days north of the border.

Cummings looks to be a confident character and should relish the chance to prove himself in England after 20-plus goals in each of his last three seasons in Edinburgh. At 21 (he'll be 22 by the time the season kicks off), he's also an up and coming player who can fit nicely into the squad we're trying to build and a far cry from the Bendtner-style vanity signings of the previous regimes.

....and goings?

The transfer rumour mill is in full flow. Amid the torrent of tiresome fake 'in the know' accounts and the duff clickbait gossip it's hard to work out which transfer titbits are genuine. Still, it does appear that Middlesbrough - with parachute payments burning a hole in their pockets - are interested in Britt Assombalonga. It'll be interesting to see if they do bid and, indeed, how serious their offer is.

Personally, I resigned myself to the fact that this might well be the window when Ben Brereton is snapped up by a Premier League club some time ago. We couldn't really stand in his way if that were the case - especially given that he was in the youth set up at Manchester United and Stoke before coming to us. He's destined for the top flight, with or without us.

I'd be gutted if either of those two left. Britt has a proven track record at this level and it'd be nice to see at least some of Ben's progress in a Forest shirt. Still, we have to be realistic. We survived by the skin of our teeth last season and might still need to make some money to avoid another FFP embargo while the new management team gets to grips with the mess they inherited. On and off the pitch we're not in a position to compete once a certain calibre of club joins the race.

If either did go, it'd be important to show some patience. It wasn't so much the sale of Oliver Burke itself that annoyed me last season - it was the fact it was done in a way that gave the manager no chance to plan to replace him. If Warburton loses a star, he needs the time, money and support to find a suitable successor. You'd like to think the Marinakis regime would give him that.

I wouldn't be surprised if we saw interest in Ben Osborn this summer either. Newcastle have apparently kept tabs on his progress and will have a decent transfer kitty to play with.

The magic number

Still, let's not dwell on all of that just yet. Want a positive? How about the fact that Huddersfield Town finished the 2015/16 season on 51 points and are now plotting trips to Old Trafford, Anfield et al? Fulham finished the same season with 51 points and also made last season's play offs. That just so happens to be the points total we amassed last season.

While I think it'd be far fetched to suggest we should aim for anything more than mid table in a tough division - both Huddersfield and Fulham have shown that you can quickly make progress at this level if everything clicks.

It's also worth remembering that we netted 62 goals last season - which is more than either Huddersfield or Sheffield Wednesday scored in their play-off campaigns. Just a shame about the 72 conceded at the other end eh?

Awaiting the fixture list

Tomorrow morning sees the release of the 2017/18 fixtures. It's the day when we all get a little too excited about the order in which we'll have to play every team twice, subject to Sky buggering it all up. Still, I'll freely admit that I always get caught up in the hype, especially when sniffing out the chance for a cheeky away day. If the computer could deliver nice convenient dates for games at Barnsley and Hull that'd be great. Yep, I know how to live...

Captain Marvel

It's worth ending with some praise for Joe Worrall. Fresh from a breakthrough season at the City Ground, he did us all proud by captaining England Under 20s as they won the Toulon Tournament in Provence. Joe was also named in the team of the tournament and was officially the competition's second best player.

As if that wasn't impressive enough, Joe also told the FA.com:
“I’ve played a lot of first-team football this season which put me in good stead to come here and captain England, which I didn’t think I’d do but of course I’m very proud to have done that. 
“So to captain England is brilliant, it’ll give me more experience to go back to Forest and maybe get the armband there one day."
It's great to hear Joe talk with such passion about the club and the armband surely beckons if he can continue his progress next term.

I'm excited to see just how good he can be - and intrigued to see who might be next off Gary Brazil's conveyer belt of talent.





Sunday, 21 May 2017

Marinakis makes postive impression with both actions and words

The bitter experience of the last five years has turned us into an odd bunch of fans hasn't it? Most sets of supporters who crave a takeover probably want to hear their new owners talk about spending big in the transfer market, with grand plans and big targets. We, on the other hand, went misty-eyed at the mention of a chief commercial officer, chairman and CEO.



This sweet sensation of structure, having been a rudderless ship in rocky waters for five long years, meant that Evangelos Marinakis and Sokratis Kominakis announced their arrival at the club this week with immediate action, not just words. With one statement they managed to put in place a professional-looking hierarchy for the club, something Fawaz and co never seriously managed.

While I'm not going to pretend I know Nicholas Randall, Ioannis Vrentzos or David Cook, their biographies show that they are people with real substance who know both how to run football clubs and how to run commercially successful operations. Both of these fundamental skills were completely absent under the old regime. In some respects this trio, alongside Sam Gordon, have a blank canvas on which to build a new business and, with their credentials, should quickly be able to make an impact.

In fact, in many ways, they already have. Remarkably we're heading into the summer with a shirt sponsor, a clear drive to sell season tickets (with a savvy discount for the existing supporters) and a new home shirt launched and up for sale. Again, fans of other clubs probably look on from afar with amazement that these things are such a big deal but, alas, that's where we're at. The tone and frequency of the promotional emails I began to receive after Gordon's appointment can only have helped to boost attendances and demonstrated a much-needed professionalism.

Marinakis' words were also encouraging. Yes, he clearly wants to get to the Premier League but he made no daft promises about when we might achieve a return to the top flight and he appeared to have understood the scale of the challenge if we're to match his ambitions.

On the playing side of things we have a manager and director of football in place who have a good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the current paying squad - as well as an appreciation of what is needed to succeed in this division. Both seem to have been drafted in with a fair bit of input from the new Greek ownership, meaning that we won't have to go through more managerial upheaval now that we're under new ownership (something that completely ruined Birmingham's 2016/17 campaign).

You only need to re-wind 12 months to appreciate what a difference this all makes. While we might have ended the campaign on a mild high - with a joyous returning goal from Britt Assombalonga - we went into the summer with no manager, no CEO, no scouting network and no plan to recruit new players as we emerged from a long transfer embargo. The summer was dominated by the attempted takeover - by Marinakis - and we were left with a slightly haphazard attempt to embrace a new continental style managerial structure with Philippe Montanier and Pedro Pereira, which was doomed to fail while Fawaz remained at the helm.

This time, we have a manager and director of football who don't need time to adjust to the division and the time and infrastructure required to have a more strategic approach to the transfer window. None of that means success is certain - but we've witnessed what happens without these foundations in place.

Indeed, we've all seen that the general off-field failure of the Fawaz era completely undermined any of his stated ambitions on the pitch. I've long thought that, no matter what we've seen in the last couple of seasons, we're further away from being a Premier League outfit off the field than we are on it.

Marinakis' statements seem to show that, while he knows he can't guarantee becoming a Premier League team next season, he can put in place the foundations that mean we start to look like a Premier League club in waiting off the field. He's reaching out to the wider community to listen to fans, businesses and academics in the city - rather than just seeing what people are saying on Twitter - and wants to bring former players 'into the tent'. You'd imagine that's not just a sop to the fans - but also a smart PR move to involve people with a big media profile who could otherwise end up being vocal critics.

Some fans, rightly, are nervous about the allegations previously levelled against Marinakis. Indeed, it does appear that questions about his activity in Greece got in the way of him buying the club last year. We shouldn't condemn someone who hasn't been, to my knowledge, found guilty of an offence but nor should we ignore the need for some caution amid the joy of Fawaz's departure.

The Fawaz years ought to have taught us not to take everything we're told at face value and to challenge the club to deliver on its promises. While what we've seen so far has undoubtedly been impressive, it's still worth being vigilant with the people in charge. Through the advisory council, fans have the opportunity to have a voice and this needs to be used in a constructive way. Fans can be critical where necessary while still being supportive of the club and treading this fine line well could be as key to the long-term success of this new regime as anything else.




Still, while we shouldn't allow ourselves to get completely carried away, there are plenty of reasons to feel positive. We have the right manager (who wants to play attractive football) and the beginnings of a good squad who, together, managed to just about secure our status in the second tier. They will be supported by a director of football with a track record for astute buys and a football club that looks set to be operating on a professional footing at long last.

Next season won't be easy. All three relegated clubs should be strong at this level, Sheffield United and Bolton should be better than Wigan and Rotherham and the likes of Villa, Derby, Leeds and Cardiff will all be expecting to come stronger. The target for the club, as Marinakis says, has to be to be better than last season. That means we're likely to need to improve substantially even to make modest gains in our league standing.

We've got a long way to go to get where we want to be but, for now at least, we should be buoyed by the fact that everything is in place to at least start the journey. Let's hope that this time next season we're even more optimistic about the future of the club.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Heaven knows I'm not miserable now: Smith's stunning save sets up vital win

Jordan Smith, take a bow. The outpouring of relief that greeted Forest's safety-securing 3-0 win on Sunday might well not have been possible without the 22-year-old stopper's intervention.

I'm sure you'll all have seen it by now but it's worth stressing just how good his save at 0-0 was. Smith has looked remarkably assured for a man who only made his Football League debut on February 11, but this was something truly special and deserves to be remembered for a long time to come. The way he contorted to adjust to Dominic Samuel's deflected effort and claw the ball onto the bar with his left hand was sensational. Mark Warburton felt it was world class.

In a season full of rising stars, Smith shouldn't be ignored. We really don't need to go shopping for a replacement for Dorus De Vries any more, Jordan looks the real deal and the unlucky Stephen Henderson will have to make do with being his deputy.




Anyone who thinks that our safety was never in doubt on Sunday is kidding themselves. With news coming in that Blackburn and Birmingham were both ahead, the impact of a goal for Ipswich could have been devastating for our fragile confidence levels. Especially since we had looked disjointed after having to take Muzzy Carayol off through injury early on. Jordan's fingertips kept us in the fight and set up everything that followed.




Britt Assombalonga then seized the moment by stepping up when we needed him most. His penalty calmed nerves on and off the pitch and he then came out in the second half with the bit between his teeth. Not even a missed spot kick could knock him off course as he dusted himself off and thundered in his second of the match - and 30th goal for Forest - soon after to set the seal on an excellent win. He was purposeful, powerful and tireless in working for the cause, leaving high hopes for more of the same next season.

But, in between Britt strikes, came another big moment to savour. You can't fail to be overjoyed for Chris Cohen. There must have been some dark moments during the long road back from each of his three serious knee injuries but here he was with a well-earned day in the sun. His left footed strike might have been deflected, but it whistled past Bartosz Bialkowski in emphatic fashion and sent the vast majority of the 28,249 crowd into raptures. As moments go, it was reminiscent of Julian Bennett's piledriver against Yeovil.




Joe Worrall headed and kicked everything, Jamie Ward was a pest and earned two penalties and David Vaughan came into the game in the second half to add composure when and where we needed it.

I tweeted at half time that Jordan Smith's save might turn out to be the most important since Shilton's title-winning heroics at Highfield Road. Of course, we won't really know the significance of this result until further down the line. Sunday has the potential to be the launching pad for a better future if we can take the bull by the horns in the summer. We've got the makings of a decent squad, a good manager/director of football combination and the prospect of more professional ownership on its way. Sunday's game was an opportunity to secure Championship status; this summer is the opportunity to start making proper progress towards a better future.

For now though, it's time to breathe a sigh of relief and reflect on the positives of the completed rescue mission. There are some killjoys who will tell you that survival isn't much to celebrate. It is when it was so perilously close to being lost, however. And it all started with 'that' wondrous save...

Monday, 1 May 2017

Fragile Forest need to find some fight for 'Survival Sunday'

Well, that's another fine mess we've landed ourselves in. With a depressing familiarity, Forest slumped to an away defeat at QPR and left us facing a nerve-biting 'Survival Sunday' clash against Ipswich. Two threads have been constant amid the chaos of 2016/17: a failure to capitalise on good results against big teams at home and an inability to dig out a result away from home. Both continued at Loftus Road and both could yet cost us our place in the Championship.


Sunday's clash is the biggest game at the City Ground for some time. Indeed, the last play-off semi-final against Swansea six years ago probably wasn't quite so pivotal. It threatens to be a nerve jangling affair, especially given the prospect that we could, technically, win and still go down. Indeed, it could even pan out that both us and Blackburn lose and we still switch places.

But, freak permutations aside, this is one last chance for us to earn our place in the second tier for next season. We've blown the golden opportunity to bury Blackburn at home and the chance to win at QPR and make life more straightforward. In a season defined by missed opportunities - on the field and off it - this one really has to be taken. Momentum is with a resurgent Rovers but we do, still, have home advantage in our game (thank goodness), a better goal difference and the benefit of having scored more goals if it comes to that.

However, I don't know about you but I'm not overly confident. The fact that the game is on Sky and a 'Kids for a Quid' fixture only ramps up the pressure. It's probably a sentiment that rests more on fear than fact but neither strike me as positive omens. Memory of our performances in the 'big occasion' play-off home games weighs heavy too.

More importantly, however, is the fact that this is a fragile team that has frozen on so many occasions this season. After the kamikaze early days under Montanier faded, we've often looked overcome by panic and dread when we've gone behind in games. Ipswich aren't a great side, let's be honest, but they probably have all of the attributes that we lack. They're organised, tough, streetwise and are a more coherent team put together by an astute manager. They've only won the same amount of games as us this season yet they've earned enough draws to be clear of safety. Yes, they lost to Rotherham and have been beaten by Lincoln this season, but they also recently put Newcastle to the sword. If we let the occasion get the better of us on Sunday, they can easily punish us.

Indeed, a friend of mine said a few weeks ago that he feared a Luke Chambers and David McGoldrick inspired victory on the final day, two ghosts from the past coming back to haunt us in the worst possible way. Maybe it'd be apt if Mick McCarthy, a man who turned down Fawaz right at the start of his tenure, were to put the final nail in the coffin at the end of his failed ownership?

Of course, it has been suggested that Evangelos Marinakis will be taking over regardless of what happens on the pitch against Ipswich. There's perhaps even a train of thought that suggests that relegation wouldn't, therefore, be the disaster that it would be under Fawaz. That's a dangerous mentality.

Firstly, there's absolutely no guarantee that we'd come straight back up. We didn't last time and neither did the likes of Sheffield United. For every Bolton, Leicester and Norwich there are plenty of examples of clubs who have floundered in the third tier. League One was a heck of a slog last time - there's nothing to suggest that it won't be just as tough again. It'd be far better, in my view, to build ourselves up in this league as Brighton, Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday have all done.

Secondly, let's not get carried away about Marinakis. Would relegation really not matter to him? Until the deal is signed and Fawaz is finally gone nothing should be taken for granted. The events of the last year should show that. Surely the only attraction of buying Forest is the vague prospect of getting the club up to the rich boys playground of the Premier League anyway? Maybe there's no risk that the sale will fall through, I'd rather us not create an excuse for it to do so though.

Finally, the core of young talent at the club might well be broken up by a relegation. We lost the Paul Hart academy core before, let's not allow the Brazil generation to be scattered across other clubs. I'm tired of having to be happy for our prospects when they thrive elsewhere - it's time that we built a club and a team fit to capitalise on the academy's ground work. The vultures are circling, safety makes it easier to get rid of them.

Yet, oddly, you do feel that there's light at the end of the tunnel if we could somehow stumble over the finish line. This manager, with this batch of young players and fresh ownership (with the right structure and backing) could well put us on a positive course. This team is more talented than the miserable Megson flops but it just lacks some key characteristics. On the days when it clicks, we can all see that there is 'something' there - but the current situation risks stamping out that spark of promise before it can develop. We're at a big crossroads and Sunday might well decide which path is taken.

One of the main problems is that Warburton has a big squad but little resembling a balanced team to pick from the mishmash of players he has inherited. Yes, there's plenty of talent, but there are also lots of flaws - with many players lacking experience, fitness, form or all three.

It's such a shame that the post-embargo shopping has been so awful. Indeed, our transfers were probably better when constrained by the FFP straitjacket. It says much about the club that only one of the five January deadline signings is in with a chance of starting on Sunday. That window was one of the many, many missed opportunities we've had - a chance to shop for players to plug gaps in the playing staff not waste time and money on ridiculous loanees like Joao Texeira who will never see the light of day.

Still, it remains the case that there should, just about, be an eleven in there with the ability to overcome Ipswich. The question might be whether or not we're ready mentally to overcome the occasion. There will be much talk in the build up to the game about this being like a 'cup final' yet the stakes are higher. Defeat won't just bring the disappointment of a missed opportunity (another one) but could define the club for years to come.

There is of course one other hope. Maybe Mark Warburton's good work with Brentford will have laid the foundations for his old side to beat Blackburn and do him a favour? The sad truth is that this might be the best card left in our hand on Sunday. Still, I'm not fussy. Safety, however it comes, is all that matters.

A nervous week awaits before the big game - for everyone from the players to those of us who persist with this daft old club come rain or shine. We can, of course, do our bit on the day to roar them on. There's a chance to seize the moment and create an occasion that we can look back on as a turning point. It could be a day for young guns to come of age and to set off into the sunset for a positive future. The grim alternative is the stuff of nightmares and might well give us a few sleepless nights in the next week.




Friday, 28 April 2017

Forest Five Asides: QPR, Marinakis, Mancienne, Lichaj, Villa

Starting a new blog format at the end of a season might not be the brightest idea I've ever had but, nevertheless, I'm doing it anyway. My new 'Five Asides' posts will aim to give a short, sharp views on five key talking points to fit between longer rants/posts. Well, that's the theory anyway.

Any comments, thoughts or suggestions are always welcome...



QPR and the ghost of Megson

The trip to Loftus Road tomorrow brings back bad memories of the last time we were relegated to League One. The 2-1 defeat in West London put the final nail in the coffin, confirming our pathetic demise. Worst of all, I went down to the game on a supporters' bus that had the BBC's Natalie Jackson among its passengers. It meant that we had to hang around in a car park while she conducted her post match interviews, leaving us to stew and fester for a while on the fact we'd fallen through the trap door before we could go home. It was grim. No-one was really in the mood for a 'looking forward to League One' vox pop on the way back either - it was time to pretend to sleep.

The fact that QPR is our penultimate game this season too isn't, of course, the only parallel with that last relegation under Gary Megson. The Derby home and away results were identical in 04/05, Rotherham also went down that year and it was also a season in which just two away wins were earned (those, like the two this season, were also both in the same week).

The positive thing is that we now have a better manager and a better team. The 04/05 lineup was: Gerrard, Curtis, Morgan, Taylor, Melville, Robertson, Evans, Powell, Gardner, Commons, Dobie. If we can stumble over the line, there might be light at the end of the tunnel.

The ghosts of 04/05, our record against Holloway teams (3 wins in 15) and the pitiful away form this season mean that I still can't rest easy when it comes to survival though.

Takeover talk as the Greeks wait in the wings

It seems that the takeover of the club is edging closer - although it also seems like we've been saying that for some time. Sky Sports today reported the fact that Fawaz is going to sell the club to Evangelos Marinakis but it's not really clear if this was based on anything that we didn't already know from other media outlets. ('Sky Sources' covers a multitude of sins doesn't it?) 

There are question marks over the Greek investor, of course, but the fact that he's run a club - and a big one at that - suggests that things should surely be better under him than the current regime. We've had a lot of false dawns, let's hope this isn't another. The club is at a crossroads - again. Survival and new ownership could give us a huge boost going into the summer but neither is certain.

Need to be convinced by Mancienne



I'll admit that I'm not exactly bowled over by the news of Michael Mancienne's new contract. I wouldn't have been at all bothered if we'd have let him go when his deal came to an end in the summer. He's got a great pedigree but I've been disappointed with his performances and always worry that we'll concede a goal from a cross when he's in the lineup. The fact that he's struggled to establish himself - even over a converted-to-centre-half Danny Fox - isn't a ringing endorsement either.

It is a positive, however, that he appears to have taken a pay cut (since he was rumoured to be on £25k a week or so) and it might well be the case that Warburton can get more out of him and utilise his talents in his style of play. One thing is for certain - we've got to stop messing about with him in midfield.

Eric The Red deserves the crown

While voting for the official 'player of the season' carries on until Wednesday, many supporters club branches seem to have opted for Eric Lichaj as their choice and the American will surely take the main crown too? It might seem odd to say that in a season in which our defensive record has been so poor but I do think Eric deserves the nod. He's been consistent, has given his all and provided leadership at times when things threatened to go off the rails. He looks like he loves to play for us, provides a decent attacking threat when given the chance and has even bagged a couple of goals. Frankly, we could with a couple more characters like him.

Who are the only other contenders? David Vaughan? Ben Osborn?

Let's hope the award isn't as much of a curse as it has been in recent times, though. Of those last five winners, Garath McCleary, Michail Antonio and Dorus de Vries all left pretty quickly, while Chris Cohen and Andy Reid both suffered serious injuries not long after earning the title.

Would Villa's fans rather they lost?

Aston Villa did us a decent favour by beating Birmingham on Sunday. Interestingly, having put their city rivals in the mire, they now travel to Blackburn to take on the team directly below the Blues. I wonder how many Villains actually want their side to lose tomorrow to pile more misery onto Harry Redknapp's men? For our sake, let's hope the team isn't 'on the beach' anyway (although it worries me that the influential Mile Jedinak looks set to be missing for them). The hope same goes for Huddersfield, who go into their game against Birmingham merely waiting for the play-offs to begin.

I really don't want a nerve-jangling last day and, while I appreciate that we need to pull our finger out and get the job done ourselves, any more favours will be more than gratefully accepted.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Pinillos peach plunders sweet point as Warburton plots Forest rescue mission

It was the new haircut that did it. Perhaps. Daniel Pinillos, the freshly shaven headed Spaniard, headed home the sweetest of injury time headers to let loose a roar of joy and relief around the City Ground. Muchas gracias Dani.



Maybe one day, we'll view the Pinillos goal in the same vein as 'that' Blackstock finish against Bristol City. There's still a long way to go - but it certainly felt like an important moment. Not least because it helped to ensure we didn't face a two week international break consigned to the bottom three to lick our wounds.

New boss Mark Warburton now needs to use the next fortnight to plot how he'll keep us out of the drop zone come May. He'll have plenty to ponder after a fiery first taste of the East Midlands derby.

In some respects, he can save himself a lot of research time by just re-watching this game as it pretty much summed up the season so far. Energy, endeavour and promise followed by a lack of ruthlessness, little or no control and an underlying fragility all mixed in with just enough spirit to give us hope of avoiding a bigger mess.

While we didn't create bucket loads of chances in the first half, we had at least approached a game of this magnitude with the right mindset. The experience and guile of Cohen and Vaughan gave us a good launching pad and the twinkle-toed talents of Zach Clough were there for all to see. What a player he could be and what a joy it is to be cheering Clough goals at the City Ground again. Not least in 'El Cloughico'. Apt indeed.

Ben Brereton also took to his task impressively. Stationed on the right, he ensured that Martin Olsson - a classy player who has tormented us in these fixtures the past - was given a big test all afternoon. It's performances like these that convince me that Ben is destined for bigger things. The maturity and skill he showed, despite being 'out of position', belied his tender years. At times in the second half, he was the only hope we had to cling to. You can't help feeling (and fearing) that he'll very quickly be too good for this level.



The subplot to the game had, of course, been the arrival of new men at the helm of each side. Gary Rowett's presence in the away dugout was especially intriguing since he was said to have been the man that John Jay Moores and co would've installed as Forest boss if Fawaz hadn't pulled the plug on the takeover. This could have ended up as one long 'this is what you could've won' cruel Bullseye-esque display, although that was somewhat diluted by our own capture of Warburton.

Rowett certainly rallied his troops well at half time. They came out for the second half with the sort of energy and drive that we'd showed in the opening 45 minutes - and we now froze and showed exactly why we're so dangerously close to bottom three, with a performance suddenly strewn with errors and nerves. Vaughan and Cohen struggled to regain control and Russell, Johnson, Bryson and Ince stepped up their influence, smelling blood.

No-one was surprised at the identity of the scorer of the equaliser surely? Matej Vydra now has eight goals in seven games against us - more than he's scored against any other team. When David Nugent doubled the advantage I can't have been the only one fearing the worst.

The frustration at having let our grip on the game slip boiled over when the superb Clough was taken off, to be replaced by Ross McCormack. His removal did seem a little premature - and the Villa loanee certainly struggled to fill his void - but the jeers that greeted the substitution were harsh on Warburton. Still, let's put that down to the heat of the moment, in the context of a game and a season that were slipping away before our eyes. In a far-from-ideal world, far-from-ideal things happen.

Luckily, a defeat that then seemed inevitable didn't materialise. The fact that it didn't was down to a few key factors.

First, came Jordan Smith's intervention. He made a couple of crucial saves to minimise the deficit - the best coming from an Alex Pearce header. Like Brereton, he's come in and looked like he's already been in the team for ten years. With him and Henderson, there's no need to go shopping for goalkeepers this summer.




Next, enter Matty Cash. Unfairly maligned by some in recent weeks, Cash came on to give us fresh legs in place of Cohen. But 'fresh legs' is an understatement. He came on like a man possessed, pressing players and driving forward with the ball, pushing us on for that one last chance and grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck. He was instrumental in the move that led to the goal and deserves great credit for his energetic cameo.

Apostolos Vellios also made a difference when replacing an out of sorts Assombalonga. He was close to writing his own name into folklore with a superb turn and shot that struck the inside of the post.

Smith, Cash and Vellios all did their bit, but it was up to Ben Osborn and Pinillos to seal the dramatic late point. Osborn whipped in an inviting dead ball, Pinillos did the rest. Cue pandemonium and surely the best full length of the pitch goalkeeping celebration from a Forest player since Mark Crossley against Spurs in the cup.




Warburton has much to sort, but he'll have known that anyway. He needs a fit Eric Lichaj for a start and the return of Jamie Ward from suspension - both of which might have given us more balance, solidity and experience (despite my reservations about Ward). On top of that he needs to try to engineer a threat from the flanks. Brereton did well on Saturday but his long term future lies in the middle. The new boss will need to try to get something from Carayol or the lesser spotted Ariyibi or Texeira - even if it's just as subs to help stretch a game.

There's also the question of Assombalonga. He might look in poor form but, equally, I can't remember us creating a proper chance for him in a while. Britt's a player who thrives off getting goals. You feel that if he can get one, he'd have a spring in his step with his build up play.

What can be done with McCormack too? He's got the talent to fire us to safety, but we're yet to look like we have a clue how to use him. Is fellow Villa loanee Tshibola ever going to be fit for the battle? How do we kill games off when we're on top? What can we do to keep more clean sheets? How can we turnaround the torrid away form.

Good luck with all of that Mark. That's some in tray with just eight games to go. In the meantime we'll be staving off the boredom of the international weekend by watching that equaliser on loop.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Bye Bye Nicklas Bendtner, let's hope you're the last of your kind

With very little fanfare, Nicklas Bendtner drifted off to Norway this week to end a fairly forgettable six-month stint at the City Ground. Despite the big billing, he leaves as another failed 'vanity signing' and a symbol of misguided transfer planning.




Never mind the Lord's Prayer. With 'Lord' Bendtner amid our ranks, we were left praying that the enigmatic Dane would actually run about and at least look interested. The success of the transfer always rested on whether or not he could channel his undoubted natural talent and provide the squad with a talisman after being cruelly robbed of seeing more of Oliver Burke.

Yet, while Gary Brazil might have chosen to be polite about Bendtner this week, it was clear to all involved that the former Arsenal man wasn't good enough to earn a start. Not good enough for a side in the bottom third of the Championship and definitely not good enough to get in ahead of 17-year-old sensation Ben Brereton.

By all rights, Bendtner should be embarrassed by that. However good Brereton is - and let's not alert too many prying eyes to his talent just yet - he surely should've been striving to show him, and Championship defenders, why he was a cut above this level of football. By the end of his time on Trentside you could make a case that Assombalonga, McCormack, Brereton, Clough, and Vellios were all ahead of him in the pecking order. Indeed, even the lesser-spotted Matty Fryatt was in danger of overtaking him. Bendtner did have injuries, sure, but who at the club hasn't?

That there was a collective shrug of the shoulders among fans shows you how little impact the Dane had in his time at the club. Yet, while the transfer to Rosenborg was best for all involved, I can't help hoping that lessons are learned from this episode.

The 'vanity signings' have to stop. There should be no more Bendtners and plenty more players in the mould of Zach Clough. Nicklas wasn't the first. In the past we've turned to the likes of Andy Cole and Neil Lennon when they've long gone past their sell by date. The less said about David Pl**t's three Italians the better. More recently, Federico Macheda was surely only signed because of memories of his early promise under Manchester United? Then there was Chuba Akpom. He might have been an Arsenal player on paper but he's surely got as much chance of being a full team regular there as I have.

Players like these just waste resources and halt the progress of good young players. If Brereton or Tyler Walker, say, come in and make a mistake then at least they might learn from that and improve. When these players make a mistake they're just wasting everyone's time.

Bendtner is in danger of turning into a travelling circus, a journeyman who people just roll up to laugh at and check out how bad he's become but at least, for now, his reputation was enough to get him a move. You never know, he might enjoy a cushy little number in Norway. If he'd have fancied it, surely our club offered him a great opportunity to prove himself though?

The fact he was reportedly on £1.3 million a year here (or about £25,000 a week) was only surprising in the sense that I feared it would have been higher. Big numbers have lost their meaning in the mad world of football haven't they? The main worry is that Philippe Montanier previously said that Bendtner wasn't the highest paid member of the squad. Lord knows (not Bendtner, the other one) how much we're wasting on some players.

January showed little sign that the transfer policy has become more sensible, especially in the case of Joao Texeira. It would sum Forest up if we go through all of the hassle of 'sub loaning' a player from another club and then never actually deploy him in a match. I've also wondered whether we put much thought into whether or not we'd be able to field Clough and McCormack in the same team.

I hope the arrival of Frank McParland as director of football in recent days is the first step in the right direction, although I'm not holding my breath with Fawaz's track record. We need a much more strategic and sensible approach to transfers. First and foremost, players should only be brought in if they offer something different to what we already have coming through the academy production line. Even then, young, hungry talent from this level and those below should be snapped up, along with one or two experienced leaders who have the desire and talent to still offer something to the team. It's not rocket science, but it isn't seemingly obvious to Fawaz.

So, good luck in Norway Nicklas. If you bump into Jon Olav Hjelde do say hello. He'd probably have been a better bet up front than you.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Wigan and Burton: Two tough six pointers for Brazil

When Bristol City arrived in town at the end of January it was said that it was the first 'proper' six pointer of the season. Thanks to Ben Osborn's Le Tissier-esque free kick, Gary Brazil successfully navigated that test. He followed that up in the next home game with another important win against a slightly more doomed relegation rival in Rotherham. Now, however, comes the tougher test of two away six pointers, either side of back to back home games from second place Brighton and Brentford.



We head into the Wigan game having had the optimism of three home wins eroded. It always looked a tough ask to take on play-off contenders Norwich, Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday in a week and so it proved with three defeats. Even if we'd been doing well this season, that would have been a tricky trio of fixtures.

That nightmare week has left us just six points clear of Wigan who, luckily for us, squandered a chance to make up ground by losing at QPR in their game in hand this week. They'll no doubt be smarting from that and relishing the chance to climb out of the bottom three. Not only that but they'll be buoyed by the fact that they've already put us to the sword in the FA Cup in a game that not only helped to end their own seven-match winless run but marked a real low point in the dying days of the Montanier regime.

Yet the main worry ahead of Saturday's six pointer comes from our appalling record on the road in 2016/17. As Soccerstats shows, if the table were drawn on away games alone, we'd be second bottom.


Luckily, if you did the same spilt for home form, we'd be 10th and, promisingly, Wigan are the worst home team in the whole division. Two wins in 17 away for us is, however, a big concern and raises questions about our ability to handle both this game and the trip to Burton in a couple of weeks.

Our only two away wins so far - Ipswich and Barnsley - came in the same week and featured three centre halves. I'm not necessarily sure that we have to revert to that style but it does show that Philippe had come to realise the need to try to add some resolve and defensive steel to a side leaking far too many goals. We need a solid base, bags of hard work and the right determination to try to avoid a crushing defeat.

Tactically, these away games are the biggest test of Gary Brazil's managerial career. From the day Montanier left until now I remain convinced that Kenny Jackett would've been a smart choice to steer us away from danger but that question is over, for now. Brazil, Jack Lester and Rob Page need a pragmatic game plan. Dare I say it, even some vague inspiration from the Dougie Freedman playbook? We have to try to win the midfield battle and that might well mean packing the middle of the park to avoid getting overran. If we're going to use Matty Cash then we need his energy in the middle, not being wasted out wide, while David Vaughan is an absolute must - Montanier's mistake of wrapping him in cotton wool can't be repeated. I'd take Vaughan on one leg over Kasami, frankly.

Brazil and co have got to fashion a side that's tough to beat amid yet another injury crisis (something that may well mean fielding three central defenders isn't possible anyway) and out of a mismash of a squad.




Don't get me wrong, Fawaz's January supermarket sweep brought in some quality players but it was the footballing equivalent of nipping to the shops when you're in a rush and hungry. You can come home with some of what you want but you can also buy things you don't need too.

Can we play Ross McCormack and Zach Clough play in the same line up? How do they fit in with Britt and Brereton? These might not be bad problems to have but have we got time to work all of this out?

Then there's the arrival of the wing wonders Gboly Ariyibi and Joao Teixeira, neither of whom have seen the light of day. I'm willing to accept that Ariyibi is one for the future, but who takes out a 'sub-loan' of a player that they don't seem to have a plan to use?

I know people often say that 'our squad should be higher in the table' but the problem with that is that we haven't once landed on a consistent 'winning team' out of that squad.

The haphazard nature of it all is, of course, indicative of the ill thought out nature of the way Fawaz 'runs' the club. Having been turned down by several managerial targets he has also settled on sticking with Brazil and co until the end of the season. This 'appointment' is, like the signings, a handy way to try to deflect criticism of his shambolic handling of the club. There's a distinct lack of activity in building a structure behind the scenes, one month on from the last round of hollow promises.

The youth structure and the 'pathway' to the first team is pretty much the only thing working at the club at the minute. For that, Brazil deserves our respect and support as he wrestles with first team duties. That surely isn't in doubt. Everyone desperately wants Brazil to succeed and he ought have a prominent role in the future of the club on and off the field regardless of what happens to the managerial position. For now, though, the focus is on the short term and in making sure that his preparation work isn't geared towards getting promoted back from League One.

If we were to get our act together and get good results in these two key away games then it'd be a huge boost to our survival chances. On average, taking the numbers from the last ten seasons, 46 points would have been enough to secure safety. You'd like a few more than that to be sure (in 2013 and 2008 55 and 53 points were needed) but once we're past that point I'd feel an awful lot more relaxed about young players being blooded in.

Before we get there, Gary Brazil needs a couple of rabbits out of the hat. If he does that, we'll have yet another thing to thank him for. If he doesn't then we'll face an almighty scrap, with four of the last six home games against top six contenders. No pressure then Gary...


Friday, 27 January 2017

The Clough dilemma: Fans and Nigel both torn over job approach

Nigel Clough has got a dilemma this weekend. Does he ask for permission to have talks with Forest, a job he's apparently long fancied a crack at? Or does he stick by Burton Albion and try to finish the job of keeping the Brewers in the second tier?

Yet, he's not the only one with a dilemma. Many Forest fans seem torn over whether or not they want him to take charge of the club. How will we feel in either scenario.

Nigel Clough on the touchline at the City Ground
(Photo: Diego Sideburns, Flickr)
It's a tough one isn't it? First of all, I'm a huge fan of Nigel Clough. Even if you set aside his family name, this is a man who is our second best scorer of all time. He is a genuine Forest legend and deserves our total respect. The 'non-league Nigel' stuff thrown about in the heat of the battle when he was Derby manager must be consigned to the past.

Some people felt a little let down by his behaviour as Derby boss but that's probably more a reaction to the fact that we didn't like seeing 'our number nine' show passion with a ruddy ram on his jacket. Paul Severn summed it up the rivalry for Seat Pitch back in 2013:
Clough displayed the same fierce will to win as Derby manager and the fixture took a more explosive context, rather than a thaw that might have been expected with a Forest favourite managing Derby. Billy Davies was keen to pay back Derby for his sacking and Clough was in no mood to surrender easy points. After a number of ugly derby-day incidents, Clough’s popularity amongst Forest fans plummeted. Perhaps the feeling was mutual. And what made things worse was that Clough proved rather adept at beating Forest. And it hurt.
Given what we've seen of Billy Davies it is perhaps no wonder that he relished taking the man on and beating him so much.

Whether that rivalry upset you or not, it's over now and it's time to move on. The reception he got when he returned at Burton Albion was heartwarming and if you doubt what the club means to the man then just watch him talk about his time at Forest:



Yet, does that all mean we should leave things as they are? It would be a shame if taking charge of the club somehow diminished or damaged the reputation he deserves. Worse still, it'd be a crying shame if he was only being approached to be manager to deflect attention away from the owner.

Nigel deserves better than to be ringmaster of the Fawaz circus and Fawaz doesn't deserve to get off the hook so easily. There's no doubt that the focus would certainly move away from the ownership if the Clough family legacy were to be continued on Trentside. It would, after all, make for a 'good story'.

Then there's the question of Nigel's managerial credentials, which some feel are modest.

While it's fair to say Nigel might not have had the greatest success in his time in the dugout, he is someone who has experience of operating in the second tier on a shoestring budget, both at Derby and Burton. At Derby, he stabilised the club after the disastrous Paul Jewell era and probably set the foundations in place for a period of promotion challenges that followed. His Burton side is competitive and isn't out of the race for survival.

He took Sheffield United to two cup semi finals, although failed to get them back to the Championship. A Blades fan I trust said they did become 'terrible' toward the end of his reign and said that his signings he made were poor...although did at least prefer him to his successor Nigel Adkins.

A mixed bag then, but you have to remember the market we're in. The likes of Gary Rowett don't want to work for Fawaz and he's greatly damaged the reputation of the club. If Nigel didn't have such a strong link to the club then there wouldn't even be a dilemma to resolve.

Nigel is experienced and would be able to steady the ship. As much as I respect Gary Brazil and Jack Lester, a 20-game stint would be an awful long caretaker spell. Personally, and I know not everyone feels the same, I'd feel a little less nervous about relegation if we had a more established manager at the helm. I've advocated Kenny Jackett as a calm, sensible, stable figure to lead us to safety - Nigel could fit that bill. We do, after all, need to stay in this league if we're going to be able to attract a buyer and get shut of Fawaz.

There'd certainly be no danger of Clough not understanding the club and its odd combination of history, yearning for a style and expectation of results. Indeed, this is a man who had to live with being the 'manager's son' for his entire Forest playing career so he's already learned to live with that 'Brian Clough legacy pressure' in a way that the club hasn't. At the soap opera that is Nottingham Forest, a Clough return seems like an obvious plot development.

Still, the biggest issue is what Nigel makes of it all. It might turn out to be a tale of two chairmen and, if it does, he'll surely stick with Ben Robinson. His stewardship of Burton has been superb and puts Fawaz to shame. Nigel has personal and emotional ties with Burton that must be every bit as strong as those he has for Forest and we'd do well not to forget all of that. Is it worth jacking all of that in to get sacked here in six months?

On the flip side of the coin is Fawaz. The man who criticised Dougie Freedman's style of play, blames Billy Davies and Stuart Pearce for a transfer embargo and is seemingly now taking responsibility for signings himself. Whether he likes it or not he's an interfering owner and someone who could put anyone off. He's showed no sign of learning a single lesson from the mess he's made of the club either, something that was abundantly clear in his interview with Natalie Jackson this week.

Of course, you could look at this another way. Clough could use the fact that the club's owner is under pressure to force him to agree to what he'd want. His dad certainly knew how to 'play' a chairman to get his own way. Fawaz, who seemed rattled in his interview, might think backing Clough would get people off his back so that he can return to the process of looking for signings. The words 'could' and 'might' are important there though.

I'm torn, therefore. I like Nigel and think he could do a job to ensure the club survives in the Championship. But the fact that I like him also means that I don't want him to be the next man to be burned by the Fawaz regime and I certainly don't want the owner to be able to hide behind a club legend and escape the spotlight.

If he decides to come, I'll be right behind him. We'd owe him nothing less than our full support. Yet, I'd also respect him for staying at Burton.

It's not an easy dilemma for anyone involved but as Tuesday looms - with the transfer window set to close and a crucial game against Rotherham to be played - this weekend has to end with a decision.


Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Philippe Montanier: The dead man walking who struggled with an impossible job

The history books will show that Philippe Montanier was given the sack on January 14 but, in essence, his brief reign at the City Ground really ended on August 28th.




August 27th, the day before the sale of Oliver Burke, had been a happy one. A third win of the season kept up the perfect start at home, with Leeds put to the sword. The threat of Monk's men had finally been nullified by a late and decisive blow from the ace up Philippe's smartly tailored sleeves - Burke netting for a fourth time in the season. Not only that, but the manager been given assurances that the 'Scottish Gareth Bale' would not be sold.

The sale of Oliver Burke the next day must have come as a hammer blow. Philippe had no time to spend the incoming money that, according to the boasts of the owner, had been a 'good deal'. None of us really knows whether he would have had it to spend anyway. Regardless of that, the sale undermined Philippe and set the tone. This wasn't a club on the up, aiming to challenge with bright young talent after all. It wasn't a job where you could succeed and make a difference, it was a job where you tried to prolong the sack for as long as you could.

That Montanier only finally lost his job in January is more down to the protracted takeover talks than anything else and it can't have been easy knowing that he was not the choice of either the current or future owner. No-one can blame him for sticking around to get his pay-off - that's pretty much the only perk to taking up the City Ground hotseat these days.

It feels such a shame that Philippe became just the latest in the list of managerial victims of the Fawaz regime. He cut a dashing figure on the touchline, delivered excitement on the pitch, blooded our youngsters, extolled the virtues of cheese and genuinely seemed a ruddy nice bloke. There was even a song for him, to the tune of Blondie's Denis, that deserved greater use.



Still, Philippe was the head coach in a continental-style club structure that, along with the Greek takeover, never materialised. Director of Football Pedro Pereira was soon gone, leaving the Frenchman the sole survivor of an abandoned strategy that could only have worked if we'd ever inserted the other pieces of the puzzle.

On top of all that, he must've been scratching his head at the never-ending injury saga which continues to be forgotten about amid Fawaz's circus.

That's not to say the former Real Sociedad boss was perfect, far from it. Over time, he took the bad hand he's been dealt and played it badly. He struggled to settle on a line-up, deployed players out of position and managed just two clean sheets, one in his last game. His teams weren't solid enough or good enough on the ball to dominate for long periods and suffered as a result.

Even victories left us scratching our heads at times. While Philippe can take much credit from the spirited showings in the early home games or at Villa away, say, the signs were there in all of those performances that there were many flaws in the team and squad.

None of us knows if he had any say in the transfers or whether that was the sole preserve of Pedro Pereira. The sad fact, however, is that none of the new arrivals has really worked. You could make a clear case that our best XI would not include any summer signings.

Then there were moments - such as the penalty argument between Henri Lansbury and Britt Assombalonga or Eric Lichaj switching positions with Matty Cash - in which you questioned his control over the squad. His laid-back approach probably wasn't suited to players that needed a boot up the proverbial.

Still, that criticism is harsh for a man who maintained his dignity and professionalism amid chaos. He'll at least be able to write off his failure as being a product of the conditions at a 'crisis club'.

His will be another reign defined by 'what ifs'. What if the Greeks had taken over? What if he'd been part of a proper club structure? What if he'd not had his bright young star sold against his wishes? What if he'd been able to pick from a fully fit squad?

Au revoir Philippe. No hard feelings, eh?




Saturday, 14 January 2017

What next for Forest after takeover collapse?

We've been a football club on ice for some weeks now. The Champagne has been on ice in expectation of the American takeover and talks of a protest were on ice with a sale in the pipeline. The ice melted last night and a fiery and uncertain future now surely awaits.



In some respects, the failure of the takeover should be no shock. When there's Fawaz Al-Hasawi and paperwork involved things tend not to end well, do they? Recent delays only served to make me nervous. With Forest, you always have to expect the worst don't you? Doubly so with Fawaz's Forest.

It doesn't seem like either party can be completely absolved of blame here. The Americans are said to have tried to drive the price down at the last minute and they do have form - getting close and failing to buy two other clubs. Fawaz, though, also has form in courting would-be buyers and failing to get them to agree to terms which, according to some reports, have been laughable.

Yet one thing I can't get my head around is quite why the sale was ever even close to £50 million in the first place, given the losses we regularly post. Surely only the very distant carrot of the Premier League can justify that? Maybe the Americans realised just how far away we are on and off the pitch after having time to assess the mess Fawaz has created?

Regardless, Fawaz is the one left amid the ruins and he'll now shoulder the blame. How much of his 'investment' does he really think he'll recover if we slip down the trap door and end up in League One? We're probably already worth less today as a result of the image of chaos we're projecting to the wider football world. Protests are now inevitable - starting with those hardy souls travelling to Birmingham today.

It used to be the case that I worried about protests against his regime. I feared he might just cut his losses and leave us in administration. Given his ego - and the fact he's learned nothing - it seems he wants to plough on for the time being by himself. Yet we're now left pondering whether or not administration, a 10-point deduction and near-certain relegation would be preferable to relegation anyway under Fawaz.

Even if by some miracle we stay up this season under a new boss, does anyone really think we won't slip further backwards under Fawaz in the next few years? League One beckons.

So, what are we left with in the short term? A 'dead man walking' manager, who was seemingly the choice of a long-abandoned alternative path, leading a band of bargain bin recruits, overrated and underperforming senior pros and young kids who risk being ruined by it all.

You do have to wonder how many of the players have asked their agent to hit the phones and find them a way out of the club in January. Whatever we think of the players, I can't imagine they're that enamoured by working for Fawaz for much longer.

A fire sale of Henri Lansbury, Ben Osborn, Ben Brereton, Matty Cash, Britt Assombalonga etc. could well happen, especially if Fawaz needs the money to run the club. Don't even mention the Oliver Burke money.

Then there's the manager. Philippe Montanier has been dealt a shockingly bad hand in his time at the City Ground yet, in recent weeks in particular, he hasn't played his poor hand very well. Maybe deep down he's resigned to his fate? Absolutely no-one would be surprised to see him join Steve McClaren and Alex McLeish in the list of managers sacked after games against Birmingham. A 'Sunday sacking' defines us more than anything we do on the pitch these days.

You'd have to wonder then who would be daft enough to follow him into the hotseat. Certainly not Gary Rowett, who was exactly the sort of manager we need and someone only within reach if we had been taken over. We'll no doubt end up dumping the burden on Gary Brazil and Jack Lester, distracting them from their work on the academy.

Protests, fire sales, a sacking and, in all probability, more listless displays on the pitch - grim times indeed.

Monday, 2 January 2017

In 2017 let's build a club fit for our academy graduates

This time last year I tried to prove that 2015 hadn't been all bad in a piece for In The Top One. Sadly, as we look back at 2016, I'm not sure there are many positives all to take from a pretty poor 12 months.

For 2015, I pointed to the following eight points:
  1. Beating Derby twice
  2. I Believe In Miracles
  3. The Peter Taylor Stand
  4. The 'honeymoon home wins' of the early Freedman days
  5. Reading away and *those* three goals
  6. The 150th anniversary
  7. Tyler Walker
  8. The necessary budget trimming
In the last 12 months we've lost twice to the Sheep and that 'necessary' budget trimming hasn't really laid the foundations that we hoped it would, with the club's future now on hold until a takeover can be completed. However, while the anniversary events can't happen every year, it's been good to see Forza Garibaldi, the trust and Bandy and Shinty emerge and take the baton on.

There haven't been that many highlights on the field either have there? The first win for ages at Boro was a pleasant surprise and MK Dons away - with Britt's comeback goal - ended a poor season on a good note. At home, the early season 4-3s were fun - although set a worrying precedent for the defensive frailty to come. Arsenal in the league cup sparked great interest and ended up being a chastening experience. 

Oddly, the most fun I've had this year at a game was probably at Villa away. A frenetic 2-2 with two really good goals and a cracking atmosphere in a proper ground that made for a big occasion. We didn't win but we had character and offered hope that things would get better.

Villa away

We finish 2016 with the following league record:

P46 W13 D12 L21 F56 A68

In some respects that set of results is entirely in keeping with the steady downward trend of the Fawaz era. If that were a season it'd mean 51 points and, based on last season's table, would've put us four points and four places below what we managed in 2015/16.

We kept just seven clean sheets in 2016 - and four of those were in a row within the first six games of the year as Dougie Freedman's 13-game unbeaten run came to an end. We've been far too easy to beat and, frustratingly, not that many of the teams to walk away with a point or three from the City Ground have looked that great.

Point 7 of my 2015 list was Tyler Walker. Somewhat disappointingly 'our Tyler' hasn't kicked on but the one big plus of 2016 surely has to be the performance of the academy players. The likes of Matty Cash and Joe Worrall have joined Ben Osborn as key fixtures on the first team scene and there are several more on the brink of a breakthrough. We now need a professional club with the sort of structure that can look after these players properly and continue their development. They should be the bedrock of the squad - with smart signings used to fill any gaps and add some experience. I'm fed up of signing bang average players who sit in the way of academy players that are probably better.

While the academy brought great joy in 2016, it's biggest and brightest talent was lost to us just as he threatened to break out and become a real superstar. Oliver Burke's sale to Red Bull Leipzig left a sour taste and killed much of the remaining sympathy towards the Fawaz regime while also taking the wind out of the sails of Philippe Montanier's bright start.

Which leads us to 2017. This year has to provide a new start and not just mark another in the list of false dawns. None of us should be under any illusions. Being taken over won't automatically stop us going down. The new owners will need an industrial sized Brasso to polish the turd they've been left. A lot of the work they have to do will be off the field and it might well take time to filter through. 

In 12 months time I'd like to have a club fit for our academy lads to graduate into. If so, 2017 could be the start of something better at the City Ground. The next few days need to be our 'zero hour' - marking a fresh new start where we move away from the failure of the Fawaz era. It can't come soon enough can it?

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Fawaz's tweets show he's learned nothing from four years of failure

There's an unhealthy sense of 'here we go again' when Fawaz tweets isn't there? Last night's social media missives showed, once again, that he's learned very little from four years of failure at the City Ground.

First of all came the unedifying spectacle of young Ben Brereton's contract announcement seemingly being rushed out to detract away from yet another paperwork fiasco.




That should have been a moment to rejoice - yet another academy star set to emerge from the production line. Instead it came at a time when the club was having to explain away yet another red tape cock up.

It might only be a 'formality' but the fact is that failure to provide financial paperwork to the FA has caused us to be placed in yet another transfer embargo. It might be easily solved when the takeover is complete but it really shouldn't have happened and it can't have impressed John Jay Moores and co. There's a way to bow out with dignity and professionalism and this is not it.

Worse still came in Fawaz's replies to fans. Now, you might argue that Fawaz gets a lot of unnecessary abuse on Twitter and I'm sure he does. There's no excuse for violent or abusive language directed towards anyone. To be honest, I've always felt that anyone who descends into dropping the 'c bomb' diminishes any point they might want to make. I'm no prude but there's no need.

However, right from the start Fawaz has revelled in the attention he has been able to get on social media. He's made transfer announcements and released other club news through the medium of 140 characters. He's set the tone and should've known that there would be rough to come with the smooth. It's easy to say you want to have a direct line to the fans but that does mean having to keep your cool when you don't like what you hear from them.

Last night he became defensive over a sarcastic comment about the Oliver Burke money.




The more I think about this tweet, the more I think it sums up what has gone wrong under Fawaz's leadership.

Firstly, it's hardly the language of someone who wants to be seen as a serious businessman is it? In fact, it sounds pretty petty to me.

Secondly, Fawaz has to accept that the reason why he's being ridiculed for the sale of Oliver Burke is because it looks set to be a spectacularly bad piece of business. Fawaz himself boasted about what a great deal he'd got for the prodigal winger and gave a confusing set of interviews in which he hinted that the manager would have the money to spend in January. Does anyone think we'll ever see any of that cash spent on the playing staff? If the money was, in reality, needed for FFP then we've been misled and Burke has been sacrificed to cover up Fawaz's failings. Either way, it's a mess.

Then there's the sheer hypocrisy of the question in his tweet. Do we know how much Fawaz has put into the club? Well, no actually. But, funnily enough, neither does the FA. The fact is that if Fawaz had bothered to fill out the paperwork and say how much he'd spent then we wouldn't be in an embargo and the new owner wouldn't have a mess to mop up. What awful timing to be trying to score that particular point.

Then there's the word 'invest'. A more accurate alternative would surely be 'waste'. Fawaz has poured money into inflated contracts and fees for average players and fired a succession of managers. His only plan has been to spend more to try to paper over the cracks. However much Fawaz has spent, it's said to be in the region of £100 million, the fact is that he could have got away with spending half the amount if he'd run the club properly and might well have got us to the Premier League. The sole reason he has spent quite so much is because the money he's stumped up has been used badly.

Money is necessary in the mad world of the Championship, yes, but organisation and structure are worth their weight in gold. The fact that he still sees his money as an 'investment' makes me think he hasn't learned a jot. His legacy is to leave a club with zero structure and a diminishing reputation. Some investment.

Last night he also asked fans to consider the players he had bought. Again, in a well run club he'd have provided the money needed for others to do the buying. It shouldn't have been about him and his ego. His role should have been about holding those to account who spent the money on his behalf.

It's worth adding the disclaimer that I know the person Fawaz tweeted. He's a good friend. As a result I also happen to know this person spends an awful lot of their time and money going around the country watching the mess of a club Fawaz has presided over. He's been a Forest fan longer than Fawaz and will still be here when he gets bored and clears off for good (it seems like he's clinging on to 20% for now). Frankly, given the mess Kev has watched, he's earned the right to make a sarcastic joke about the club. I'm sure there's plenty worse he could have said.

I gave Fawaz plenty of time. I still don't think he came with the intention of doing anything dodgy. I think he wanted the glory of leading us to the top flight and, frankly, I wasn't bothered if his ego trip coincided with success for the club too. But, whatever his intentions, he hasn't been up to the challenge. It really is time to go now.